Free speech, censorship, privacy and data retention

Ita Buttrose comes out fighting for ABC independence and public's right to know

NSWCCL has reproduced below the full statement made today by the Chair of the ABC in defence of the independent public broadcaster in response to the intimidating raids by the Australian Federal Police on the ABC and a News Corporation journalist.

We do so because of the profound threat to a free press, to legitimate whistle blowers and to the public's right to know posed by these extraordinary raids. 

We do so also because we are greatly relieved that the independent broadcaster has a chair who appears to understand the significance of 'independent' in this context. 

 

ABC Chair Ita Buttrose's statement in full

On behalf of the ABC, I have registered with the Federal Government my grave concern over this week's raid by the federal police on the national broadcaster.

An untrammelled media is important to the public discourse and to democracy.

It is the way in which Australian citizens are kept informed about the world and its impact on their daily lives.

Observance of this basic tenet of the community's right to know has driven my involvement in public life and my career in journalism for almost five decades.

The raid is unprecedented — both to the ABC and to me.

In a frank conversation with the Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, Paul Fletcher, yesterday, I said the raid, in its very public form and in the sweeping nature of the information sought, was clearly designed to intimidate.

It is impossible to ignore the seismic nature of this week's events: raids on two separate media outfits on consecutive days is a blunt signal of adverse consequences for news organisations who make life uncomfortable for policy makers and regulators by shining lights in dark corners and holding the powerful to account.

I also asked for assurances that the ABC not be subject to future raids of this sort. Mr Fletcher declined to provide such assurances, while noting the "substantial concern" registered by the Corporation.

There has been much reference in recent days to the need to observe the rule of law.

While there are legitimate matters of national security that the ABC will always respect, the ABC Act and Charter are explicit about the importance of an independent public broadcaster to Australian culture and democracy.

Public interest is best served by the ABC doing its job, asking difficult questions and dealing with genuine whistle-blowers who risk their livelihoods and reputations to bring matters of grave import to the surface.

Neither the journalists nor their sources should be treated as criminals.

In my view, legitimate journalistic endeavours that expose flawed decision-making or matters that policy makers and public servants would simply prefer were secret, should not automatically and conveniently be classed as issues of national security.

The onus must always be on the public's right to know.

If that is not reflected sufficiently in current law, then it must be corrected.

As ABC Chair, I will fight any attempts to muzzle the national broadcaster or interfere with its obligations to the Australian public.

Independence is not exercised by degrees.

It is absolute.

 

 

 

 

 

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NSW Council for Civil Liberties condemns police raids on journalists

5 June 2019

The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) has condemned the raids on journalists by the Australian Federal Police.

NSW CCL President Pauline Wright said “Today, the Australian Federal Police raided the ABC office. Yesterday, they raided the office of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst. Two raids in two days cannot be a coincidence. We are witnessing what amounts to a state crackdown on journalism. It strikes at the heart of the freedom and independence of the press, which are a cornerstone of democracy."

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NSW Council for Civil Liberties condemns prosecution of whistleblower Richard Boyle

5 June 2019

NSW Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) is disturbed by and condemns the prosecution of Australian Tax Office (ATO) whistleblower Richard Boyle.

In April 2018, Mr Boyle told the ABC that the ATO was inappropriately and excessively seizing the funds of people assessed as owing the ATO money, regardless of personal circumstances, in an attempt to raise money for the end of the financial year.

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NSW Supreme Court rules against imposing costs on Stop Adani protesters

1 April 2019

After upholding an application by the NSW Police Commissioner to prohibit a Stop Adani protest scheduled to take place in Newtown in February, the NSW Supreme Court rejected an application by the Police Commissioner that the organizer of the protest pay his legal costs for going to Court. 

The Stop Adani protest was intended to proceed along King St, Newtown on 17 February, the same day as Fair Day organized by Mardi Gras in nearby Victoria Park.  The Court considered that the level of disruption which would be caused by closing King St for the duration of the Stop Adani protest on the same day as Fair Day justified the making of a prohibition order.

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NSWCCL condemns government attempt to rush Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security

The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) condemns pressure from Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton on the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) to rush its review into the Telecommunication and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018.

On 20 September, the Assistance and Access Bill was referred to PJCIS. Submissions to the Inquiry closed on 12 October, and public hearings into the bill are set to continue to 4 December. The purpose of the bill is to enable police and intelligence agencies to undermine the privacy protections of encryption. Media reports indicate that Dutton wrote to PJCIS, urging it to “accelerate its consideration of this vital piece of legislation to enable its passage by the parliament before it rises for the Christmas break."

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NSWCCL demands visa for Chelsea Manning

There are rumours that the Australian Government is moving to refuse a visa to whistle-blower Chelsea Manning who is due to visit Australia soon for a speaking tour.

NSWCCL strongly opposes this as an unwarranted restriction of free speech and of the Australian community's entitlement to hear Chelsea Manning's views directly from her.  We accept that Chelsea Manning fails the character test in s.501 of the Migration Act 1958 but dispute that this is adequate grounds to deny her visa.  There can be no reasonable  apprehension that her speaking tour would cause harm to Australian community or that she will engage in criminal activity while in Australia. 

Her situation is entirely different from that of holocost denialists or advocates of violent misogyny who have been appropriately denied visas on character grounds. ,

We are disturbed at suggestions that the US Government may be pressuring the Australian Government to refuse her visa. If this is correct, it would represent foreign interference with Australia’s domestic affairs of a serious and unacceptable nature.

NSWCCL has distributed a public statement urging the Australian Government to defend and promote free speech and grant a visa allowing Chelsea Manning to come to Australia for her planned speaking tour. 

 

CCL statement on visa for Chelsea Manning 

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CCL recommends opting out of My Health Record

To increase participation by healthcare providers and patients, the health records of all Australians are being automatically uploaded onto the My Health Record database unless they opt out between 16 July and 15 October 2018. There will be ability to opt out after this date, but a My Health Record cannot be deleted, only deactivated and removed from view. Consent in an opt out model relies on apathy, rather than encouraging control by the patient. In practice, the opt out process is cumbersome to implement and, in many cases, patients do not have the capability or capacity to exercise the controls to opt out or implement access restrictions. NSWCCL recommends that, unless there are specific health reasons for not doing so, individuals opt out of the MHR.

Uploading of documents by a healthcare provider is permitted by “standing consent” until that consent is withdrawn by the patient.  It is recommended that patients exercise their right to withdraw consent and advise their doctors when certain information is not to be uploaded.  Audit measures include notification to the patient of first time use by a healthcare “organisation”. However, this and other privacy measures do not eliminate the risk of unauthorised access, unintentional breaches and unwarranted disclosure of patients’ health records, by individuals within or outside those organisations. Proper auditing needs to be specific and visible to the patient, permitting them to decide what level of notification is desired. Disclosure of records should be limited to the minimum number of persons necessary to perform a task.

The Federal “Framework to guide the secondary use of My Health Record system data” is being introduced in 2020. Patients will have to withdraw or opt out of future plans for very broad secondary use of health records, rather than being able to give explicit consent for each disclosure of medical or health data to a third party.

Read more here My Health Record Summary

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Council for Civil Liberties condemns regulations allowing for bans on public gatherings

Statement amended on 26 June: Following media interest, the NSW Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) has responded to criticisms from the NSW Government regarding the breadth of these regulations. CCL appreciates the government’s engagement with our concerns. This statement has been amended to incorporate the Government’s response, which is explained more fully in the final section of this statement. The regulations have also been provided at greater length, to explain other prescribed activities, and to set out penalties stipulated under the regulations.  CCL remains opposed to the regulations in question.

On 1 July, new regulations will come into effect, granting the NSW State Government incredibly wide powers to disperse or ban protests, rallies, and virtually any public gathering across approximately half of all land across the state. CCL strongly opposes these regulations. As is explained in the final section, the NSW Government has responded to our criticisms by arguing that the new regulations are broadly the same as previous regulations. This argument is factually correct, although fines that may be imposed under the new regulations have been increased. However, this does not answer criticism of the merit of the regulations.

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CCL deeply concerned about anti-protest laws, but welcomes aquittal of 'Wollar Three'

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) welcomes the dismissal of anti-protesting law
charges against Bev Smiles, Bruce Hughes and Stephanie Luce in Mudgee Local Court on
June 5.

The trio, known as the “Wollar Three”, attended a protest against the expansion of the
Wilpinjong mine in 2017. They blocked a road, and held up a banner. They faced two charges
under the Inclosed Lands Protection Act 2016, of which they were acquitted. They were also
charged with obstructing pedestrians and drivers. Magistrate David Day found them guilty of
obstructing the road, but did not record any convictions against them.

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Civil liberties bodies reject massive facial recognition database

COAG has agreed to the establishment of a National Facial Biometric Matching Capability which will have access to all drivers licences in Australia - as well as visa, passport and citizenship photos. This massive biometric database will be available to state and federal security and law enforcement agencies. The rationale for this very significant increase in the capacity for real time government surveillance of most Australian residents is, of course, to better protect us. 

We want governments to do all that is possible and proportionate to protect us and, as part of that, we support effective coordination between states and the federal agencies. However, NSWCCL fears that this development in mass surveillance capacity will have- over time - significant implications that are not currently appreciated for the nature of our society and the robustness of our democracy.   

We note that our political leaders in their untroubled endorsement of this- and related-  initiatives have blithely dismissed any concerns about the admitted  impact on our privacy or other liberties we have traditionally valued. 

We could take greater comfort in their assurance that they will simultaneously be 'maintaining robust privacy safeguards'if they showed a greater appreciation of, and concern for the associated risks and the likely implications of this increased capacity for state surveillance on citizens. 

At this stage there is little detail as to how this increased surveillance capacity will work and what will be done to protect this massive trove of  our personal  biometric data from hacking or misuse.  

NSWCCL has joined with other civil liberties and privacy organisations to express our deep concern at this new and significant expansion of surveillance capacity. It looks to us like a step too far even in the context of an ongoing terrorist threat. 

Joint media statement 

LibertyVictoria statement 

COAG package.

 

 

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